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The Chaplin Collection: Volume One

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: A
Video/Audio/Extras: B+/B+/B+

Directed by: Charles Chaplin
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Produced by: Charles Chaplin
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Georgia Hale, Claire Bloom, Jack Oakie, Henry Bergman, Mack Swain
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it

Every film buff out there has a favourite director who has inspired them and made them cheer. Many like Steven Spielberg, Ingmar Bergman and Quentin Tarantino the best. There are also those who enjoy the features of Kevin Smith, Terrance Mallick and David Lynch. I myself have enjoyed the works of these artists thoroughly. However, in my opinion, none of these compare to the wonder of Charles Chaplin, known to many as the Little Tramp. His films have made people laugh, think and understand the world around them. He touched upon subjects like World War I, the machine age, the communist witch hunt and Adolf Hitler and made fun of them in the process. There are also his lighter efforts that are like live-action cartoons that can be enjoyed by anybody of any age. The magic of his features are a must for any person (and I'm not just talking about film buffs). The greatest geniuses in the world have been Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Charles Chaplin. Watch his films and you will understand what I'm talking about.

Warner Brothers has done a magnificent job with this box set, featuring four of the master's films and they are all worth a look. I will look at each individual, much like I would a regular one-film review and explain not only the quality of the feature, but the transfer and extras as well. The first film in the set is not only Chaplin's best work, but quite possibly the greatest feature ever made, Modern Times. Chaplin plays the role of a factory worker who is fired from his job after becoming mentally insane. He is cured, but soon finds himself in prison after he is seen waving a red flag in front of a mob of protesters (one of the funniest scenes in the film). After being released, he befriends a poor girl (Paulette Goddard) and he sets out to find work. However, it is not as easy as he hopes and thus begins a series of brilliant gags. Charlie Chaplin managed to take a dig at Henry Ford, while also tickling the funny bones of people everywhere, although McCarthy wasn't too found at it. Paulette Goddard's performance as the gamin is also fairly emotional and it also provide the Tramp with his first kind love interest. The score of Modern Times is also some of Chaplin's best and serve for one of the greatest love themes of all-time. I cannot praise Modern Times. It's a funny flick that stands as a true classic of American cinema.

For every DVD in this collection, the Chaplin estate has provided some nice archive footage has supplements and there has also some great behind-the-scenes stories as well. The extra is an introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson. He gives great material on the making of the film and other interesting notes. An episode of the documentary series Chaplin Today hears input from two French filmmakers who also give great points and there is also more tidbits on the impact of Modern Times. However, the subtitles oddly enough don't match with the translator. Strange. A deleted scene of the Tramp trying to cross the street is next and I'm glad it was deleted because it adds nothing to the political message of the film. Next the song that the Tramp sings in the film is shown in full and there is also a Karaoke version. I tried to sing along, but I failed miserably.

A very educational documentary from the thirties is shown next about the new machine age and frankly, I learned a lot. Other people will probably find it boring, though. A similar documentary is also on the disc, this time accompanied with great music by Mozart. Liberace singing the unforgettable song "Smile", a documentary looking at poor children viewing Modern Times for the first time, trailers and a photo gallery end the disc on a high note. All the extras on this DVD are great and earn an "A" in total.

Charlie Chaplin continued with political comedies when he made his first talkie in 1940 entitled The Great Dictator, a film poking fun at the most evil man who ever lived. Naturally, the film became very controversial and not surprisingly, it was banned in Germany along with Chaplin's other features. However, records show that Hitler saw the film twice, although nobody knows what he thought of it. The Great Dictator also became Chaplin's biggest money-maker and was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor. Charlie plays two roles in The Great Dictator: a Jewish barber stricken with amnesia and the ruthless dictator of Tomania, Adenoid Hynkel (the opening title card states that the similarities between the two are purely coincidental). Despite accusations following Modern Times that he was a communist, Chaplin's genius is still intact in The Great Dictator. The way he potrays this satistic monster as a poor little insect is wonderful and makes you laugh and cheer. Meanwhile, Jack Oakie's imitation of Benzino Mussollini (which got him a supporting actor nomination) adds to the satire perfectly and steals the show quite a bit as well. The Great Dictator is the one of the funniest films of all-time and its legacy will live on forever.

The main extra on this DVD (in fact of all the Chaplin DVDs) is a documentary entitled The Tramp and the Dictator. It takes a look at not only the making of the controversial film, but also the evil monster who was the inspiration for it. It even compares the two men and has interviews with people who worked with Hitler. Sometimes I find myself watching this documentary more than The Great Dictator. There are some colour footage from the set of the film as it looks at how Chaplin used the crane camera he had been introduced to as well as a scene that was taken out of the finished film. There is also a deleted scene from an earlier short, which ended up being acted again in The Great Dictator. Very interesting to watch. The DVD finally caps off with a scene from Monsieur Verdoux (which isn't needed here) and a still gallery. I would have liked to have seen some trailers for the film, though, because it must have been rather interesting to market. The Tramp and the Dictator is the highlight of the disc and the colour footage is also nice, so I give the extras a "B+" grade.

A lot of people refer to Jaws and Star Wars as the first major blockbusters, but really the first one goes back to 1925 with the release of The Gold Rush. This was Chaplin's first film with special effects and they certainly wowed audiences back at the time. It was a daring approach to his usual films, but Chaplin does it wonderfully. Set during the time of the Yukon gold rush, many dreamers set out into the frigid cold to look for some gold and even more wealth than they could possibly imagine. Two, the Lone Prospector (Charles Chaplin) and Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain), meet up by accident and soon become best friends. When they both wonder on their own ways, they encounter different discoveries. Big Jim finds a mountain of gold, but is soon given amnesia and can't remember where it is. Meanwhile, The Lone Prospector finds the love of his life (Georgia Hale) and by throwing a New Years party in her name, he has her falling deeper and deeper in love with him, even though she doesn't really attend.

The Gold Rush was the first Charlie Chaplin film that I had ever seen and I was quickly hooked on him. After that, I went and got all his films and watched them laughing out loud. This film stands as his second best film (behind the almighty Modern Times) and is absolutely a joy to watch. Some of my personal favourite moments are when Big Jim hallucinates The Lone Prospector turning into a giant chicken and when The Lone Prospector is almost shot. Of course, who can forget the infamous scene where Chaplin sticks two forks into two buns and makes them dance? That's right. Nobody. It's such an all-around important scene that can't be forgotten. The Gold Rush simply offers a lot of laughs per minute with wonderfully directed gags. It is surprising due to the 80-year-plus age of the film that the transfer isn't that good. Warner could peaked it up a bit, but I can forgive due to how old The Gold Rush is. Now, this DVD set includes two versions of the film. On Disc One is the 1942 re-release with a narration by Chaplin. On Disc Two is the original 1925 version with additional piano music. Many Chaplin fans seem to despise the 1942 edition of the film, but I don't mind because it is just as hilarious with or without sound. Though, I agree that the the 1925 film is the superior version, since it includes an important scene that Chaplin cut when working on the re-release.

All the extras appear on Disc Two, starting with an introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson. He explains the troubles that Chaplin had while making the film as well as how he constructed some scenes. I always like his introduction and this one, like others, are really good. The "Chaplin Today" documentary provides even more information and talks to an African filmmaker. It's a great half-hour piece. One warning about the translation, though: If you choose to watch in subtitles, be careful, because it doesn't reflect what the translator is saying. Worldwide film posters of The Gold Rush as well as behind-the-scenes photographs appear next. We are even treated to pictures of a real-life Alaskan gold rush. The disc ends with clips from different Charlie Chaplin films. I find that these extras are hard to grade, because we do get the two versions of the film, but the extras aren't as informative as the other Chaplin discs. I will give the extras a "B+" grade, nonetheless.

The only non-comedy in this set is Limelight, released in 1952 the same year that Chaplin was exiled from the United States, which was his home for almost forty years. However, unlike his last couple of films, Limelight is in no way political and is more a cry for help from Charlie himself. He plays the title role of Calvero, a clown who once popular in the London music halls has now lost his audience. He has turned into a drunk and can barely pay his rent. After rescuing a suicidal former ballerina (Claire Bloom), he now decides to take of her. They immediatelly strick a bond, both having had similiar lives and they both decide it is time for them both to go back into the limelight.

Chaplin rarely did dramas, but of the two of his I saw, I didn't think they were that special. They're were good, though and I do recommend them. Limelight features, as usual, a great performance, but it is his score that works well (and he even won a well-deserved Oscar for it). It is so beautiful and very lovely to listen to. Claire Bloom and Sydney Chaplin aren't as good, though. The relationship between Calvero and the ballerina is nice, but we don't see much chemistry between the ballerina and the piano player character that Sydney plays in the film. Their scenes are boring are uninteresting. It is up to Charlie and the dance numbers to save the film and that they do. Limelight is still worth seeing, though.

The extras are surprisingly plentiful for this almost forgotten film. There is the usual introduction by David Robinson as well as the "Chaplin Today" documentary of the film. Both are very informative and interesting to watch. There is a five minute deleted scene that like many scenes that Chaplin took out of his film, deserved its place on the cutting room floor. A very nice extra is the ability to listen to the music like a CD. The music is terrific, so there's nothing to complain about. There are some extracts from Chaplin's un-published novel that would later become Limelight, which are read to us. Very interesting notes, indeed. There is the original home of the flea circus gag in an un-finished short that I actually would have liked to have seen completed. The disc ends with a couple of 1950's home movies of Chaplin with his family, trailers, a photo gallery and a poster gallery. These are very nice extras and I award them an "A-" grade.

Warner Brothers has wonderfully put Chaplin's films on DVD with a splendid transfer and bountiful extras. This is worth a purchase by any fan of Chaplin or old-time cinema.

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